Fiji fun.

Current position: enjoying our last night in Fiji with tasty food, exotic drinks and rather pink backs and tummies! After three days of clouds and some unwelcome wind, today finally pulled through and gave us our scorching Fijian sunshine. (8th July)

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Fiji
From Sydney we did a short flight over to Fiji. Our first hot sun in a very long time it feels like.

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The flight was smooth, catching the bus was super easy and before we knew it we were chilling in the resort bar with a drink in hand and dinner was ordered. Lurvely! We arrived in the evening and were pretty tired from 12 hours travelling so after a few beverages we headed off to our garden bure for a good night’s kip, excited to see our surroundings in the daylight!

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So it seems when you’re on a beautiful island such as Fiji, you very quickly find yourself working on ‘Fiji time’ and unless you do lots of extra excursions, time just seems to unwind and everyday rolls into the next and becomes one big blur of swimming, tanning, eating, drinking, showering off sand and more swimming! This pretty much sums up our time here.

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One activity we did do on our very first morning was shark snorkelling! Now being a little nervous of the sea as most of you know, I was dubious to say the least but I fancied going on a boat trip so off I tootled, informing the guide that I probably wouldn’t be getting in the water.

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After an amazing boat trip out crossing the reef several times and riding waves back in to the sheltered bays I decided not to give anything too much thought and just jump on in! So I did, albeit with a lifejacket just to make it a little easier, and it was fantastic! I floated along next to Chicken quite happily admiring the reef and posing for the underwater shots although we look pretty terrible in our snorkel gear!

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The guide had gone on ahead with a full wetsuit and spear gun to look for the sharks, encouraging! When he shouted he’d found them, I think we were both a little nervous but the sharks were about 5 metres below us on the sea floor so weirdly we didn’t feel threatened. It was like being in another world – being able to quietly look down on them and watch them go about their business. They were very elegant in the water and one was probaby only about 3 metres below us at one point when he swam alongside a reef that brought him right towards us. A very humbling experience.

A blurry shark photo!

A blurry shark photo!

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The reef was stunning too and when you got closer you could see it was so full of busy little fishies and various other underwater wildlife. Truly beautiful.

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Back at The Beachouse where we were staying we found time to play in some kayaks and make use of the stand-up paddle boards too. Most of Fiji is surrounded by reef so the waves break on the reef about 400 metres from the beach which leaves a lovely shallow lagoon-like area to swim and mess around in. Perfect for those flat, calm days to pop out on the paddle boards. Google image has helped me show you what I mean as we couldn’t get an aerial shot ourselves!

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The weather was a little disappointing as we only really had two out of five hot sunny days and the rest were cloudy and even pretty windy at times. We even had a huge storm on our last day so everyone was reading, playing pool and doing various other activities that kept them in out of the weather! All this while England was enjoying a heatwave, typical!

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Important wedding planning!

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Even though the weather wasn’t perfect we still had a brilliant time here. Fijian people are so friendly, going out of their way to help you and we never once felt unsafe, even when we took a trip to the capital, Suva, for some souvenir shopping. Being in the chilled out backpacker-friendly resort we were able to really switch off and relax after having a pretty hectic time in New Zealand and Sydney, and you might even say we were storing up energy for our forthcoming two week trip home!

A bus in Suva

A rickety old bus in Suva

A village along the coast

A village along the coast

Saying goodbye to new friends!

Saying goodbye to new friends!

Just one more installment from visiting family in Hong Kong and then we’ll be home. We can’t believe just how quickly it has come around and it makes us so grateful for every single day we have had away.

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G’day mate!

Current position: relaxing with mojito in hand and fuelling up on a traditional Fijian BBQ after having faced my fears and gone snorkelling with sharks! Day one in Fiji and we are thoroughly on ‘Fiji time’ and catching all the rays we can – trying to catch up with Englands heatwave! (4th July)

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Sydney

Welcome to Australia!
We nipped over here for a super quick visit to see a friend who deserted England a whopping two and a half years ago.

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Our first treat was to see him waiting for us in arrivals, arms wide open ready for a big bear hug! Our second treat was getting a taxi, not a train or a bus, to his house, and our third treat was a much needed cup of tea and a chocolate hobnob, nice one Dave!

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We had just five full days with Dave and he did a fantastic job of showing off his new city he calls home. On Sunday we had a late and lazy breakfast in a gorgeous cafe, very welcome after a rather late catch-up on the Saturday which was quite heavy on the locally brewed beers! We followed breakfast with a touristic visit to the famous Bondi Beach and a walk along the coast admiring rock formations and pretty bays all the way to Coogee Beach where we found some more drinks in a perfectly placed pavilion bar.

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Rehydrated, we crossed the city by bus to The Opera House bar where we watched the sun go down, with more drinks, behind Sydney Harbour Bridge and admired the building work of the iconic Opera House. A moment of contemplation and gratitude as I understood where we were and how lucky we were to be there.

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Monday was back to the real world so unfortunately Dave had to go to work, but he only had two days to battle through before having a few days off to spend with us. So Chicken and I had a day of chilling, catching up on laundry and baking brownies and a roast chicken for Daves return from work. This seems to be the foods of choice whenever we get close to an oven!

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We also did the tourist things and did a free walking tour, wandered across the Harbour Bridge, through the Royal Botanical Gardens and tried a ‘parmi’, apparently a local dish. Basically a chicken schnitzl with some sort of sauce on top, normally tomato based and covered in cheese, delightful!

Sydney Botanical Gardens

Sydney Botanical Gardens

Special trip to the Lindt cafe!

Special trip to the Lindt cafe!

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree...

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree…

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With Dave back with us we had an early start on Wednesday and headed in his friends four wheel drive to the Blue Mountains National Park about two hours from Sydney.

The ancient Red Hands Cave

The ancient Red Hands Cave

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On arrival we were jinxed with cloud cover and no views but as is the way, stay long enough, look hard enough and you will probably end up being lucky. A short walk to Wentworth Falls and the views simply opened up for us. Stunning. And so sobering to think we were still so close to Sydney and that Australia is just so huge!

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We finished a lovely walk with never-ending views across the valley and nipped over to the Three Sister’s viewpoint. A great opportunity for some gopro selfies.

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The next day, our last day, we drove out to another part of the Blue Mountains National Park on a mission to see a kangaroo in the wild before leaving Australia. Putting quite a lot of eggs in one basket for that area of Australia apparantly, and we had a great day of short walks and great views, but it was almost tainted by the fact we had to think about heading home and we still hadn’t seen any roo’s….

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Just as we were heading out I spotted two. A mum and a joey it looked like and immediately the breaks were on and we leapt out the car with cameras at the ready. Chris and I couldn’t believe how big they were but Dave said these were a relatively small grey breed (about 5 foot tall), and he has seen some big red ones over 7 feet tall! Quite a sight I can imagine. Of course Chicken had to venture a little closer and dutifully the roo’s hopped away showing us how massive and powerful and graceful they really were.

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So a successful end to a fantastic week.

We splashed out a little on meals and consumed enough beer and gin to sink a small ship but we thoroughly enjoyed our little snippet of Australia and it’s firmly on the list for a proper trip one day.

Thanks to you Dave for being an impeccable host, giving us your bed, showing us the best of Sydney and letting us be a small part of your own exciting adventure. I’m very proud of how you’ve conquered the move to Aussieland and we are both so happy we were able to have a proper catch up after so long. You’ll be pleased to hear Chicken is working on his beard again, you’ve clearly been an inspiration in more ways than one!

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Land of the Kiwi’s – a fond farewell.

Current position: enjoying a well earned sit down and hot choccie treat in a cafe underneath the rolling valleys of the Frans Josef and Fox glaciers. We have basically walked or cycled everyday for the last two weeks and have an overnight walk planned for tomorrow to some hot pools. I am exhausted! And even Chicken has admitted to ‘feeling a little weary’ so we clearly have been busy! Making the most of our two weeks we have left. (14th June).

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So this blog sees us travel around the south island of New Zealand as if it were no bigger than the Isle of Wight. We have had such an incredible time since we ferried over from Wellington and it is just too hard to write about everyhing here. What I can do is try to give you a summary and some highlights.

Here goes…..

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The first highlight would have to be mountain biking the Queen Charlotte Track in the northernmost Sounds of the country. We biked and camped for two nights and three days and I will admit that this is most definitely one of the hardest things I have ever done – I think it even beats our ascent of the 6088m Huyuna Potosi summit in Bolivia.  I’m pretty good on a bike but have never really ‘mountain biked’ as such and we were thrown right in with wet, slippery conditions, several steep ascents followed by bumpy, rocky descents and to top it all, tenting it and getting a wee bit tired from all the exertion. It took a lot of concentration but was absolutely brilliant and Chicken informs me, had we had top of the range bikes it would have been much easier, of course!

A tui, which has an incredible call, and below, a wren.

A tui, which has an incredible call, and below, a wren.

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We nailed it down south to Fiordland in a day and a half in order to complete two more Great Walks before the wardens closed down the huts for winter at the end of April. The Routeburn and the Keplar.

The Routeburn Flats during a brief parting of the clouds on day one.

The Routeburn Flats during a brief parting of the clouds on day one.

Sadly we had terrible, cloudy, wet weather for the Routeburn so there’s not a lot to say about that but we lucked out on the Keplar and had some fantastic blue skies intermittent with snow flurries as we spent a day on the ridgeline.

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Mountain ridges on the Keplar Track

We were so impressed by the hut facilities and friendliness of the DOC (Department of Conservation) wardens on the Walks but were perhaps a little ill-prepared to the fact that these walks have been somewhat manufactured and are maintained so that idiots could do them! We even thought that if we were a little fitter we would rather have run them. So we did enjoy them for what they were but it just meant that our desire to hike to the backcountry and spend a night in a rusty old hut was not yet fulfilled…

Enjoying being the only people in Lake Angelus Hut.

Enjoying being the only people in Lake Angelus Hut.

The cheeky kea that is more pesky than a pigeon in England and they will actually tear apart your gear if you leave it unattended outside.

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Travel northwards a few hundred kilometres and you may catch up with us hiking glaciated peaks opposite Mount Cook (highest peak in NZ at 3800m approx), dodging rain and the first snowfall of winter in the Arthurs Pass region on various day walks, wading through snowdrifts up to my knees at Lake Angelus in the Nelson Lakes region, and timing tidal crossings (only just!) on day walks and overnight trips on the famous Abel Tasman Great Walk. When I say only just it means we thought crossing the tidal lagoon and wading almost up to my waist was better than the hour and a half slog around the edge! We made the decision, legged it and no turning back! We were totally safe for those that are worried – no danger of drowning just getting a little wet! Which we did anyway!

Dramatic clouds hang over Arthurs Pass.

Dramatic clouds hang over Arthurs Pass.

On the way to Lake Angelus Hut.

On the way to Lake Angelus Hut.

Beautiful Abel Tasman

Beautiful Abel Tasman

Cold, pink legs after our tidal lagoon crossing!

Cold, pink legs after our tidal lagoon crossing!

Inland of Abel Tasman is Kahurangi National Park is where we finally got our solitary night in a traditional old mustering hut first built in 1926.

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We had a brilliant 6 hour hike up to Riordans Hut which we reached in time to gather and chop up some firewood and collect some water from the nearby stream. We then set about relaxing for a few hours before lighting the fire and enjoying some blue cheese, crackers and tawny Taylors port. Blumin’ marvellous! If ever you are to spend a night in a hut people, take some fine port and some strong cheese with you, it’s just what you need when the sun goes down and it starts to get chilly.

A stunning lost landscape on the way to Riordans Hut

A stunning lost landscape on the way to Riordans Hut

The south island is sooo different from the north. Long and thin with a huge mountain range down one side. The southern Alps are just beautiful and we were lucky enough to have blue skies when we hiked near Mount Cook, which I hear is a rareity. Since hiking there the weather has made a mad dash for winter and there have been severe rainstorms and snowfall so we have been lucky enough to see the mountains both sunny and snowy.

Mount Cook

Mount Cook

Cheeky monkey and Mt Cook!

Cheeky monkey and Mt Cook!

A few other things that filled our time on the south island:

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Enjoying incredible autumn colours.

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I went riding in LOTR film locations on Frodo the friendly horse.

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Sampling fish and chips in various locations.

Jetboating in Queenstown.

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Cruising on the Milford Sound in almost record rainfall (480mm in one night!)

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Relaxing in the hot springs at Hanmer and at the Welcome Flats on the Copland Track.

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Tasting a NZ delicacy, whitebait fritters.

Cycling the streets of Christchurch marvelling at the ability of the city to rejuvenate in the aftermath of the earthquakes.

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We did a second help exchange stay just north of Christchurch on a sheep and beef farm where we were supposed to stay a week – we stayed for three! So I was clear this time before we got there that I really wanted to ride some proper horses and I was in luck. Olly has ridden all her life and while originally from Ireland, lived and rode in the UK for a while and was a successful event rider when she moved over to New Zealand. She had me working my guts out feeding, clipping, exercising but to me it all seemed like playing not working. I even taught a kids lesson while I was there! In return though I got some brilliant training on her lovely horses and was even lucky enough to take two different horses out hunting several times. One a youngster new to the game and one an old huntsmans horse and I had sensational days out on both of them!

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While I was busy with the horses, Chris was busy learning new skills with David. He learned how to put up new fencing as well as how to fix the old, did some massive clearing of tree debris on flooded land and even learned how to use a wool press.

He even came out riding round the farm several times and I managed to tempt him into a mini lesson in the arena where he learned to jump! He was definitely chuffed after acheiving this and I was really pleased as after spending so long learning and appreciating his love for skiing, he could now do the same for me and riding!

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The other thing we must mention from David and Ollys is the puppies! They were 5 weeks old when we arrived and were tiny and meek. By the time we left they were heavy, bitey, loud mouthed, troublesome pups who definitely knew that Chris was the one that the food and the running around and the cuddles came from! So cute but sadly no room to take one away in our van!

Thanks so much again for such a welcoming stay Olly and David. We felt truly at home and are very grateful for everything you did for us. We hope the pups have not caused you too much trouble since we’ve been gone?!

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The south island is definitely more epic and more rugged and wild feeling than the north and we have absolutely filled our time here with multi-day hikes interspersed with a few other lovely things. We’ve felt our fitness and stamina improve as well as our ability to make some serious gourmet pesto spaghetti in the light of a hut fire!

We tackled many river crossings on our walks...

We tackled many river crossings on our walks…

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As I write this we have two weeks left where we plan to fit in two more overnight walks, some beverages and pizza in Wanaka combined with a few days skiing – just to make sure I haven’t forgotten how to do it! We are just waiting on the snow and then hopefully I can add some piste snaps here before I publish it!

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It is with sadness we say goodbye to New Zealand. It has been our longest stop so far and we have just had the most fantastic time here. However, we have learned to look forward to the next exciting step and be grateful that we had the opportunity to be here.

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A mere hop across the water to see an old friend…. Sydney here we come!

Sunset behind Lake Angelus

Sunset behind Lake Angelus

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Land of the Kiwis – Kia Ora!

Current position: huddling by the log burner in a Nelson Lake Alpine Hut as we prepare our supper that has been lovingly carried in our packs for two days now and enjoying meeting other trampers who also have tales to tell and tramping stories to exchange.  We really are getting into the kiwi mindset it seems, as now in the tramping ‘off season’ it’s locals you meet not other tourists.

DSC_0117 I’d just like to refresh your memories that I am a little behind with updating my blog… so whenever I may be posting this blog online, I actually wrote it on 2nd June!

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Auckland, volcanic craters surround the city.

We arrived in New Zealand on the 10th March and had a whirlwind three and a half months. We now have about four weeks left until we leave so plenty of time to create lots more memories and have some epic winter adventures, but I thought that as there is so much to catch up on I best start now!

I will start at the very beginning…….

The North Island

Fantastic. Most people say it’s the south island you want to head to – give us time, we will get there – but we spent five weeks travelling and exploring the north island and it was absolutely brilliant! I was surprised to see the north island was so hilly – imagine range upon range of giant teletubby hills and that is what most of it looks like! Totally unsuitable if you ask me, for anything other than grazing land and it makes for very slow journey times even on the main roads. But very pretty nonetheless.

The hills are alive in the north island.

The hills are alive in the north island.

The north of the north has a stunning coastline which thankfully the sun was still shining on when we visited. Golden sandy beaches interspersed with violent craggy rock outcrops and only single lane roads to tiny camping spots at the occasional accessible bay.  We had days where it was almost too hot and this was already autumn sun so we could only imagine the heat in the summer. We found it funny too that this is where most Kiwis head for a super hot Christmas! DSC_0185

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We splashed out on our first fish and chips at Mount Maunganui on the east side of the Coromandel Peninsular. This was brilliant. In fact to this date this camping spot has to be in our top three. We just parked up by the waterfront in front of some rediculously fancy houses, took a warm evening stroll up to the top of the Mount, watched some paragliders displaying huge amounts of nerve at the top and wandered down to enjoy a pint and a gin in the sun before treating ourselves to fish and chips on the waterfront. So indulgent and what a treat! We had a peaceful nights sleep and in the morning ran a loop around the base of the Mount before making use of the (cold) showering facilities in our bikinis on the beach. I feel I should state here that Chris was obviously in swim shorts, not a bikini.

Crater Lake at the top of Mount Ruapehu

Crater Lake at the top of Mount Ruapehu

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Drive to the centre of the island and it feels like you’ve landed on the moon. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the nine Great Walks and was a must on our list. The weather started off very poor but when we reached the halfway point we decided to go for one of the dormant volcano summits anyway. Major lack of visibility there but on the way down everything cleared and we had fantastic views over the whole volcanic area.

Walking on the moon with poor visibility (and this wawasnwasn't even as bad as it was!)

Walking on the moon with poor visibility (and this wasn’t even as bad as it was!)

Mount Doom comes into view...

Mount Doom comes into view…

A little bit of a kick when we realised just what we were surrounded by and knew instantly how gutted we would have been if we’d powered on and missed it. Old craters all around, some filled by lakes others looking angry and real. Opposite, the huge perfectly shaped cone of Mount Ngauruhoe (also known as Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings) dominated the scene and got my mind racing back to Mr Barlows geog lessons and all that volcanic activity stuff. Simply titilating.

Emerald Crater Lake with tiny people on the left!

Emerald Crater Lake with tiny people on the left!

The Red Crater with amazing colours and tiny people on the peak on the right!

The Red Crater with amazing colours and tiny people on the peak on the right!

DSC_0349We popped over to the Hawkes Bay area on the east coast and enjoyed some flat cycling in the lush winery regions. We did a help exchange stay on a farm for a week where in return for a few hours work a day you get accommodation and food. While we were there I was hoping for some horse riding but sadly this did not really come to anything and after a week of cleaning their house and gardening busily away in the evening sun and eating the most amounts of meat and freshly fallen (and cracked open by us) walnuts we could manage in the evenings, we said our goodbyes.

DSC_0400 We were booked in to embark on our second Great Walk adventure, the Whanganui River Journey, but just before this we were introduced to New Zealand rain! We have certainly learned that it doesn’t rain a lot here, but when it rains, it really rains! Annoyingly the river levels rose to a dangerous height and after hanging around for a few days for the levels to drop to a safe height, it rained again! So the canoeing trip is on our list for “next time”.

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During our motorised explorations we have been constantly on the lookout for short walks or cycles (we bought bikes in Auckland on arrival) and anything else that might take our fancy. That is the brilliant thing about the van. It gives you so much freedom to go where you want, stop where you want, and stay where you want essentially. There are some rules about camping in National Parks but generally New Zealand is so set up for campervans and the thing I think we are most impressed with, weirdly enough, is the provision of such fantastic toilet facilities! So clean, so well stocked and even in the tiniest of pass-through towns. Just what you need, and sometimes more often than you realise!

Just a few of our extra adventures in the north island that didn’t involve hiking or biking:

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The longest place name in New Zealand.

Pie eating, far too often!
Hobbiton.

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DSC_0813Sampling coffees and beers throughout the country.
Waitomo Caves tour.
A barista course in Wellington.
Getting gourmet with our campervan dinners.
Dinner is on, time to kick off the shoes and relax...

Dinner is on, time to kick off the shoes and relax…

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Rugby museum.

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Miniature railway trip.
Chris skydived over Lake Taupo, and loved it!

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Te Papa museum in Wellington.
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Zealandia, which has many endangered bird species.
Takahe, endemic to New Zealand

Takahe, endemic to New Zealand

Wallowing in a hot water pool dug with our own hands on a famous beach in the north.
Various short walks and cycles to simply outstanding nature.
Mount Dampner Falls

Mount Dampner Falls

Three Sisters Beach

Three Sisters Beach

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Cycling the Timber Trail

Cycling the Timber Trail

So that is the north island very quickly summed up. I hope the photos and captions make sense. We literally have thousands of photos so I hope this small selection will do justice to the simply exhilarating time we have had here so far.

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In the next installment we’ll be venturing down south to the mountains and witnessing the country move swiftly into the grip of winter….

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An Asian taster.

Current position: sat nursing a canular in my arm to help deal with an infected bee sting whilst listening to new friends play traditional Irish music with a sunsetting view towards one of New Zealands most famous surf towns.

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Japan

What a fantastic flight, Japan Airlines are the way forward, such exceptional service and three brilliant films watched back to back!

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So our ‘second installment’ of our travels after having had it so relaxed and easy in Canada, brings us to Japan to meet up with Chris’ sister Carolyn and her boyfriend Bryan. And what brilliant tour guides they were!

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They had been in Tokyo for a few days before we arrived so had all the annoying things like navigating the metro worked out, and Carolyn had an action packed itinerary for us so we simply dressed for the occasion and stepped up to being shown around the best sights Tokyo had to offer!

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To name just a few:
Harajuku girls and market street
Tuna fish market and traditional sushi tasting
Expensive but exciting visit to the Global Knives store
Busiest pedestrian crossing in the world, Shibuya
Day trip to the dominating Mt Fuji

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We also managed a weekend stopover in Kyoto, which absolutely blew our minds! Where Tokyo had been a major sensory overload with illuminated signs on every possible inch of wall or building, sushi restaurants aimed at unknowing tourists with dodgy plastic plates of food outside and very smartly dressed locals in every corner of the city, Kyoto offered similar but on a much smaller and more palatable scale. The streets (outside of the central district) were much smaller and lined with the more traditional style Japanese buildings and the menus outside restaurants were generally written in beautiful Japanese script with no English version so you were almost completely blind when entering, and we saw a lot of people dressed in the traditional kimonos with beautiful hair and bright red lipstick. We did see two real life geishas with the white faces and all the regalia but unfortunately they were in a taxi so it kind of ruined the image for us.

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Kyoto offered us some remarkable temples but the outright winner for me was the Golden Pavilion. We got there just as the sun made a welcome appearance and it was absolutely stunning. Some might say it could be the perfect place to film a James Bond movie….

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So that was Japan in a nutshell and it has left all four of us yearning for more. An incredibly friendly place where everything works perfectly and it is such a hugely diverse country with so much culture and history on offer.

I could not move on however without a mention of the bullet trains which Chris got massively excited about (and actually I think the rest of us secretly were as well) and of course the loos… buttons and functions all over the place and even one that plays music to mask your ‘toilet noises’ if embarrassed! Definitely an experience in itself!

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A few more memories of our time in Japan.

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Kuala Lumpur

So we only stopped in KL because it turned out the flights to New Zealand were cheaper that way so we thought we might as well get out and have a look. We also then thought our time would be better spent nipping a little further south to see some good friends but more on that later. We spent a total of one evening and one morning in KL and that was almost too much. Having come from Japan which was so clean and so efficient we were a little shocked at the state of the roads, the vast amount of traffic beeping and driving with no regard for junctions or crossings, the more than unpleasant smells on the streets and the general chaotic feel. We hadn’t had time to do any research but only being there for a day it wasn’t too bad. We asked at the hostel what there was to do with 12 hours in KL thinking she would have an exciting list to fill our time. With minimal interest she said the only thing to do was go up the Petronas Towers.

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So we walked through the air conditioned walkway to the Towers which felt a little safer than walking by the road, and certainly more comfortable than being in the humid air, and we looked up in awe at the height and the impressiveness of the two towers.

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We didn’t go up as it cost a bomb that we weren’t willing to part with at that time but instead had a little wander in the area. Underneath the Towers is a shopping mall with the most high end shops you could ever possibly want in one area. We felt very out of place and somewhat uncomfortable amongst the high flyers mingling in the centre.

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We then walked outside and literally next door there were shacks down a side street with people wearing no shoes trying to sell their various bits of junk, and such a foul smell eminating from the street. Again we felt extremely uncomfortable but this time for different reasons.

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Feeling confused about our outlook on KL we took a walk round a nearby park that looked like it would have been stunning about 5 years ago but has been somewhat forgotten. We grabbed some very tasty chicken satay before making our way to the airport once more to head off down south on a short weekend break. Both happy to be moving on so soon and not sad to say goodbye to Kuala Lumpur, but pleased we had a brief visit as it simply served to make us appreciate everything else that we have been so lucky to experience.

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Singapore

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So on arrival in Singapore we started out with a treat and decided to get a taxi from the airport as opposed to the bus. Our reason for jetting so quickly out of KL (much to our delight) was to spend some time with Mikey and Bri who moved out here a while back. Absolutely brilliant. We stayed at their very homely and perfectly positioned flat a short metro ride from all the good spots in the city and were welcomed with a homemade lasagne straight off the plane which was just perfect!

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Mikey had a busy itinerary planned for us, both in and out of the city, and we thoroughly enjoyed being shown the best sights of Singapore.  We actually appreciated a few finer things in life and were not being cheap backpackers for a short time which was fantastic!

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We tasted some amazing food including at a busy hawker which is like a local food court with so many options and everything delicious.

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We were also treated to fresh fruit each morning which is something we hadn’t had for a long time, as well as some fabulous homecooking from Bri. We truly were absolutely spoilt! It was so nice spending a whole weekend with such good friends that we haven’t seen in ages, and especially after it has been just me and Chicken for so long!

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Singapore certainly impressed us and it had a really positive vibe about it, as well as the streets being clean and orderly! I would suggest a visit to anyone in that direction but be prepared to part with a little cash in order to feel like you’re really experiencing what the city has to offer!

Thank you so much Mikey and Bri. You were more than generous and we had such an amazing time with you guys. We loved spending some quality time with the two of you and all that is left to say is a huge congratulations to you both on the birth of little Chester! He didn’t fancy popping out to say hello when we were kipping on the floor but that’s probably best for all involved! Well done to you both for having such a gorgeous little boy and we just can’t wait to meet him when we are both next in the same country! Enjoy all those precious moments, we send lots of love to all three of you!

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Ski ski ski!!!

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Current position: continuing blog post from Canada as there were just too many photos to fit on one blog!

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Banff

So from Vancouver, Miles left us and Chris and I thought that after three weeks Danny and Julia deserved to have some time without lodgers so Chicken and I hopped on a 13 hour bumpy bus ride to Banff in the middle of the Rockie Mountain Range. Our purpose? For me to learn to ski and for Chris to get even better!

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There is not a lot I can write about Banff as we literally skiied the whole time! We got ourselves into a routine and actually really enjoyed it after having had so long of being ‘free’!

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We got the first bus every morning, a twenty minute ride to the resort we skied at (Sunshine Village), skied all day long with a quick break for lunch before getting the bus back at 4pm. Once back at the hostel (where we had a very comfortable double room for an exceptionally good rate) we would quickly warm up, change and then wander up the hill to the Banff Centre where we had got a months membership to use the pool. It was brilliant using the water to relax the muscles after all that skiing but at the same time improving fitness too!

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After swimming it would be back to the hostel for a home cooked meal as healthy as we could make it followed by chilling out in our room reading, writing, planning our New Zealand adventure and then a pretty early bed time ready to do it all again the next day!

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We loved Banff. It was such a pretty town surrounded by incredible mountains and everyone we met seemed so chilled and friendly. On the odd days we didn’t ski we did some local hikes to enjoy the snowy scenary, although when it got to -15°C and I went out with all my clothes on and was cold, we cut that walk a little short and went to grab a hot choccie in the town instead!

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Chris had to adventure off-track to rescue his sunnies on one walk, you can see them precariously perched on the ledge in front of him! Mission successful!

Chris had to adventure off-track to rescue his sunnies on one walk, you can see them precariously perched on the ledge in front of him! Mission successful!

Our time in Banff certainly was successful. I went from being a complete beginner to happily cruising down all blue runs (equivalent to red I think in Europe) and even tackling some steep and freakishly scary looking black runs as well as continuously hurling myself down mogul sections determined to get it right, but more often than not ending up in a little snowy, giggling heap!

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Chris did a fantastic job of ‘coaching’ me and stayed incredibly patient in my early days of tantrums and sense of humour failures, when I could barely make one turn without falling over!

Early days of snow plough...

Early days of snow plough…

working on those parallel turns...

working on those parallel turns…

increasing slope gradients...

increasing slope gradients…

getting some air doing some mogul practice...

getting some air doing some mogul practice…

adding steep slopes and moguls together = me freaking out but still getting down in one piece!

adding steep slopes and moguls together = me freaking out but still getting down in one piece!

Happy with my new skills!

Happy with my new skills!

Chris managed to improve loads as well and soon moved on to playing in the jump parks, needing better skis and eventually going off with some friends from the hostel to explore the off piste areas.

In parks...

In parks…

and off-piste!

and off-piste!

In the last week he managed to get into the Delirium Dive which you can only ski in with specific avalanche equipment as the resort ski boundaries do not cover that area. What he skied down looks like something out of those you tube professional ski videos but sadly the photos just don’t do it justice.

Making his way off-piste.

Making his way off-piste.

Making it look easy with Daniel!

Making it look easy with Daniel!

The man in action!

The man in action!

He was chuffed with both of our improvements and we’re now excitedly planning all the ski holidays we can go on after we complete this trip!

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In summary, Canada was fantastic fun and we are so lucky to have been able to devote so much time to skiing in such a stunning place. When we left Julia and Dannys and headed to the airport we had mixed emotions. Sad to be leaving good friends and an epic city behind, excited to see Chris’ sister and her boyfriend in Japan yet still apprehensive for our ‘second chapter’ of our round the world trip and what surprises and challenges it may have in store for us.

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Donkeys and doughnuts!

Current position: sitting in our campervan in as sheltered spot as we could find, hiding out from Cyclone Pam as she moves just east of New Zealand North Island, where we are currently camped out, having devastated much of the Pacific Islands. We feel safe in our small home. For the moment.

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So we had about two and a half months in Canada and we were lucky enough to have friends in excellent places while we were there! We both fell in love with the country and will definitely be planning a roadtrip here during the summer in the not too distant future,  if indeed we don’t decide to move out here permanently….

Toronto

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Huge thanks here has to go to my friends Nikki and Adam who I worked with at Camp Vega back in 2008. Six years later I took them up on their offer of staying with them any time I was in Canada!
They live about an hour south of Toronto just outside the quaint town of Guelph. On touching down in the plane and seeing snow everywhere we felt a hundred million miles from the crazy backpacker streets and dwellings of South America. Perhaps feeling a little overwhelmed, maybe even apprehensive, driving ourselves comfortably in our own hire car and arriving at the most beautiful (think Teletubby land for similar rolling mini hills!) and homely place was just the best thing ever.

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And after the dogs had given a good ten minute warning that we had arrived, they soon snuggled in for our very English cup of tea and a good catch up with Nikki and Adam. We also got to meet little Scarlett who is just gorgeous and so full of character. Sadly we were a month or so too early to meet even littler Hudson but a huge congratulations to you both, he looks simply divine!

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So we had about four days here and even though they were busy working, entertaining a one year old and heavily pregnant, Nikki and Adam were impeccable hosts and showed us some great local spots. We enjoyed a tour around the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada (where their house is and where Adam helps manage things), a quick spin around Guelph and other neighborouring towns where they still use horse and cart as their main transport and a fabulous two day trip to Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake – imagine the most dinky little hamlet in Surrey and the main high street is just like this.

Chico, the cutest donkey!

Chico, the cutest donkey!

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So quaint and in such a gorgeous setting with beautiful views over Lake Ontario. And finally, a pizza night at Nikki’s parents with little Scarlett being the main focus of everyones attention of course!

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After Guelph we drove back to Toronto where Nikki had organised for us to stay with her Aunt for our weekend in the city. We were there Friday to Sunday and again were hosted superbly. We enjoyed seing the sights of Toronto from up the CN Tower and across the water from Toronto Island Park, as well as some great evenings chatting music, politics, Canadian history, more music and a lot of Bruce Springsteen over wine!

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Thank you so much again Nikki and Adam. We really did have such a good time and it was so nice to be part of a homely lifestyle rather than being dirty backpackers constantly on the move! A fantastic introduction to Canada and please take us up on the offer of the same in England when you can find the time for a trip with two little ones!

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Vancouver

What can I say. Love the city. Would move there tomorrow.
Maybe.

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We got there four days before Christmas so things seemed to go in a bit of a whirlwind and we just simply had too much fun to be able to list everything here. Most of the photos will be big cheesy group shots that shows us having the best time everywhere we went!

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We were hosted by the fabulous Julia and Danny (English born and bred and now entering year two of their big epic travelling adventure, enjoying the Canadian work VISA and reaping all the benefits of Canadian living!).

Christmas Eve and Day was celebrated after loved ones back home due to the time difference, which was very weird, but that did not stop us from having a very merry time! I managed to find a bottle of cherry brandy so that kept me entertained for a while and with various tasks including opening presents, cooking and eating far too much food, playing games, drinking lots and eating too much cheese, we got along just great with DK and JC’s kiwi friends also living in Van who joined us for the festivities, and we had a most frivolous time!

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Boxing Day saw us skiing on the slopes just outside the city and it snowed so much we had to dig the car out at the end of the day. Quite exciting and just a little insight into the rest of our stay in Canada.

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Shortly after that Miles joined us for a two week holiday and I’m pretty sure we sent him home needing another one! DK and JC sadly had to work most days but we made the most of the evenings and the two weekends they had free. We literally did so much in these two weeks that there’s no way I can write about all of them. Basically everything was a lot of fun, some things were more touristy than others, and some completely outrageous that only the most crazy would even consider doing them!

Cannucks ice hockey game

Cannucks ice hockey game

Serious train bridge on Vancouver Island, and two photos below also

Serious train bridge on Vancouver Island, and two photos below also

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Very sweaty summit walk on Vancouver Island

Very sweaty summit walk on Vancouver Island

Totem poles on a cycle around Stanley Park

Totem poles on a cycle around Stanley Park

Sunset over a Tofino beach on Vancouver Island

Sunset over a Tofino beach on Vancouver Island

Curling like professionals!

Curling like professionals!

Funky photo at Granville Island

Funky photo at Granville Island

Polar Bear Swim NYD 2015

Polar Bear Swim NYD 2015

A complete high moment of our Vancouver visit would be Parallel 49th. It’s a fantastic coffee shop that also makes it’s own doughnuts. It’s fair to say that we went here a lot more than we should have done and possibly sampled most of the doughnut menus between us all. If you’re in Vancouver, definitely look it up!

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Another massive thanks to you Julia and Danny. We had the best time in Van, not only in the city but also with you guys and it was so easy having such a great place for a base and having fresh washing for our next installment! Remember to keep up the skiing if you can get on the slopes!

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